The issue of mainland Chinese mothers coming to Hong Kong to give birth is much in the news lately, with some people hoping new chief executive Leung Chun-ying will take steps to limit the number of beds available to mainland mothers. I thought it was a good time to excerpt this story from Yeeshan Yang’s book Whispers and Moans — now available in Kindle, Nook and Kobo e-versions.
This story was in fact adapted for the screen in the Hong Kong movie True Women for Sale, starring Anthony Wong Chau-sang and Race Wong.
Fertility for sale
The view in south China is that northern girls are looked down upon and northern wives are trodden on. Here is the story of Limfa, a peasant girl who would normally have few survival options. Without a pleasing appearance, she chose not to be a hooker, but followed a survival strategy more helpless than prostitution.
It was a typical morning at 6:30am on Mongkok Road. Construction workers were gathering to wait for the site supervisor, who would pick the labour he needed for the day. Uncle Gin could not sleep and had arrived at 5:00am. He needed money badly and wanted to be at the front of the queue. He squatted on the pavement and prayed for the supervisor to come early; no matter what, he had to work today.
Carrying a document folder and wearing a grey suit and a big smile, Kwai approached the hopeful men waiting for work. As Uncle Gin saw the smiling insurance salesman, he immediately turned away. Old Keung was standing next to him, and before he could do anything to save himself, Kwai had locked onto him, saying: “Hi there, Old Keung, you should buy insurance as early as you can. You are only in your fifties, with no injuries and no illness. The monthly payments would be very low.”
Old Keung was tired of the repeated sales pitch and said to Kwai, “I have told you many times, wait till I find a wife.”
The regular casual labourers nicknamed Kwai ‘the insurance Kwai’ – in Cantonese the word ‘Kwai’ sounds like ‘loss’ and insurance sounds like ‘sure’, indicating that buying insurance from Kwai did not sound like a good deal.
Insurance Kwai instantly responded to Old Keung: “You’ve been talking about getting married for years and years.” But Old Keung was running out of patience: “You think I enjoy being single! I just can’t raise enough for the marriage. What can I do?”
Seeing Uncle Gin trying to slip away, Kwai called out: “Hey Uncle Gin! Why are you so hard to find? The only place I can find you is here, early in the morning!”
“Don’t push me so hard!” replied Uncle Gin. “I haven’t cleared my prostitution debts yet, and my wife is having a new baby.” Kwai was shocked. “Haven’t you had enough babies, Uncle Gin?”
Old Keung was amazed as well. “Your first wife gave you four children, your new wife already had one, and you want more? That must cost you a few dollars!”
“She’s a tigress, she won’t have an abortion no matter what I say, so what can I do?” Uncle Gin sighed with resignation. Kwai showed no interest in Uncle Gin’s family troubles; he just wanted him to pay the money he owed. “Uncle Gin, I paid your last month’s life insurance premium, plus this month’s. That’s HK$1,120 you owe me.”
“I don’t want the insurance any more, I’m giving it up,” said Uncle Gin.
“Giving it up? How about your little boys, your little girls, and your young wife, what will they do? Besides, you’ve already paid the insurance policy for a whole year; if you give up now, you won’t get anything back.”
This made Uncle Gin uneasy. “If I can get some work today, then I’ll pay you back by instalments,” he conceded.